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The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters…

The Cheese Monkeys: A Novel in Two Semesters (2001)

by Chip Kidd

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Really quite funny. Almost like an episode of House, except in an art college. ( )
  ndpmcIntosh | Mar 21, 2016 |
I'll be honest - I picked up this book because it had an interesting layout and cryptic words printed on the spine. Kidd is a graphic designer, which explains the book's physical beauty, but he's also an excellent writer. The book tells the story of a reluctant art major who is driven by two girls in his class, and inspired by a harshly critical teacher. Several parts of this book made me laugh out loud, and some of the art commentary really made me think. It was a great story, and I'd definitely read it again. ( )
  howifeelaboutbooks | Nov 4, 2015 |
I was excited just to see this book on the library shelf. The fantastic, intricate, unique cover was clearly 100% Kidd, and the story inside matched my excitement. The novel follows an unnamed freshman studying Art in the late '50s, and discovering Design. The characters were wildly, obsessively charming, the humor biting, and the conclusion strangely upsetting. Loved it.

Plus, totally an introduction to graphic design. Hit it up! ( )
  Magus_Manders | Mar 18, 2014 |
Hilarious! I actually laughed out loud until I cried and my stomach hurt. ( )
  Ginerbia | Feb 14, 2014 |
If you read a novel or watch a movie about going to art school this is what you will find:

A fish-out-of-water protagonist who doesn't quite know what to make of the other students who are more creative/intense/interesting than the folks back home.
An attraction to a girl or boy who appears creative, maybe even genius, but is actually damaged somehow.
A scene wherein above mentioned boy or girl trashes the work of a canonical artist such as Picasso.
A benevolently incompetent teacher of an introductory class the students view as a waste of time.
An abusive teacher who was once an enfant terrible but has had to settle on teaching in a second tier art school after failing to live up to early potential. This teacher will drive some students away in tears, but he will also inspire others to do their best work.
A revelation that the girl or boy the protagonist was attracted to has had an inappropriately intimate relationship with above mentioned abusive/genius teacher.
A series of events that will lead the protagonist to learn the personal history of the abusive/genius teacher.
The disappearance of the abusive/genius teacher prior to the end of the semester under a cloud of scandal.
This is what happens in the movie Art School Confidential, in the art school plot arc of Six Feet Under and in Chip Kidd's novel The Cheese Monkeys. I enjoyed all three, in spite of their strict adherence to the first year art school formula, but none of them have convinced me that what they have to say about art school is to be taken seriously at all.

Sorry, Mr. Kidd, I just don't buy it. Too many details just don't ring true. The novel's protagonist attends classes with under 20 students during his first year of college, one of them with well under 20. Even in 1958 I'm guessing classes were much larger at state universities. The abusive/genius teacher drives students away even though he doesn't have a tenured position. I doubt he'd keep his job past the second week. I speak as someone who once taught at a state university. All these college co-eds sleeping with their professors novel after novel has always struck me as more wish fulfillment than reality. It's such an over-used plot device than I wouldnt' believe it even if you backed it up with pages of documented research. Needless to say, it never happened to me.

Les Demoiselles d' Avignon by Pablo Picasso

Your attractive but damaged romantic interest attacks Picasso's Les Demoiselles d'Avignon as the work of a misogynist in her art history class. I hate the work of Picasso, really hate it, but even I can come up with a counter argument to this charge. Certainly an art professor could. By 1958 he must have heard this charge more than once. You portray him as flabbergasted by the suggestion. Try what my Yale professor says, are you reading the work of art or is it reading you? Or how about misogyny, like beauty, can be in the eye of the beholder. See, I just came up with two good comebacks and I'm not even an art professor.

I enjoyed the assignments your abusive/genius teacher gave his students. Those I can believe even if the critique scenes later were ridiculous. I was once a creative writing major, my spouse was once an art major, neither of us can recall a professor ever saying anything remotely as mean and derogatory about student work as your abusive/genius teacher does. In fact, I once saw a professor offer words of praise for a student who had assembled a jigsaw puzzle as her final project.

And then there's the faculty art exhibit. You abusive/genius teacher exhibits a sealed cooler full of feces knowing that someone will fail to resist the "DO NOT OPEN" sign thereby releasing an odoriferous comment on the entire exhibit. In a world where artists must get teaching jobs to make ends meet, not crapping where you eat is a good motto to live by. Even self-destructive types know a good meal ticket when they find one. I am afraid you are sacrificing truth for a cheap laugh. It's funny, but it's not real.

However, it turns out the use of human feces as an artistic medium in 1959 is a bit prescient. In 1960 Italian artist Piero Manzoni produced 90 tin cans said to be full of his own excrement. He wanted to sell them for their weight in gold. These cans have accrued in value since the artist's death in 1963. In 2008 Sootheby's sold one at auction for just over 97,000 pounds. However, it has been discovered that the cans were actually filled with plaster. That strikes me as a wonderful critique of modern art--even cans of human excrement are fakes. ( )
  CBJames | Jul 17, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0060507403, Paperback)

After 15 years of designing more than 1,500 book jackets at Knopf for such authors as Anne Rice and Michael Chrichton, Kidd has crafted an affecting an entertaining novel set at a state university in the late 1950s that is both slap-happily funny and heartbreakingly sad. The Cheese Monkeys is a college novel that takes place over a tightly written two semesters. The book is set in the late 1950s at State U, where the young narrator, has decided to major in art, much to his parents’ dismay. It is an autobiographical, coming-of-age novel which tells universally appealing stories of maturity, finding a calling in life, and being inspired by a loving, demanding, and highly eccentric teacher.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:14:29 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Chip Kidd's witty and effervescent coming-of-age novel can only be described as a portrait of the designer as a young man. It's 1957, long before computers have replaced the skillful eye and hand, and our narrator at State U is determined to major in Art. After several risible false starts, he ends up by accident in a new class called "Introduction to Graphic Design," taught by the enigmatic professor/guru Winter Sorbeck equal parts genius, seducer, and sadist. Sorbeck is a bitter yet fascinating man whose assignments hurl his charges through a gauntlet of humiliation and heartache, shame and triumph, ego-bashing and enlightenment. By the end of The Cheese Monkeys, the members of Art 127 will never see the world the same way again. And, thanks to Chip Kidd's insights into the secrets of graphic design, neither will you.… (more)

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